Sunday, January 29, 2006

Kosher money or non-kosher money?

Wow, did you hear that there's kosher money and non-kosher money? Heshy (of Heshy's House fame) just visited Israel and gave people the choice of being paid in kosher or non-kosher money. Guess which is which? It's not what you expect!

Nice to have something amusing to blog about!

Hanna Siniora on Hamas

Another voice on the Hamas victory - from Hanna Siniora, the Palestinian co-leader of IPCRI:

For Hamas in opposition it was always easy to criticize. Now Hamas has a heavy of load of responsibility and duties to shoulder, on one hand they have to steer the ship of state to safety and to independence. As a religious fundamentalist movement they have to negotiate with Israel and be accepted by the West. Is Hamas able to modify its ideology? Or are they going to stick rigidly to its platform?

In the election campaign, Hamas managed to send signals of flexibility, they discarded the slogan calling for the destruction of Israel, Hamas announced its readiness to negotiate directly with Israel. They entered the democratic process of elections based on the Oslo agreements, while declaring that Oslo is dead. But what was important, tangible and real, and they continue to adhere the ceasefire.

Hamas, in a similar manner to the PLO before it is undergoing a process of transformation, history is repeating itself. Hamas is obliged to uphold its promises and pledges to its public to steer the ship of state to safety, to reexamine its platform, this is not going to happen overnight. In this process, it is a do or die situation, they have the responsibility of delivering the people from the burden of occupation as well as implementing their social and economic program. Militancy and armed confrontation of the occupation are not the tools of Hamas at the head of the PA they have also to change otherwise they will be isolated. The EU have to again be the vehicle in a similar role they played in the past with the PLO, the EU started it with the Venice declaration of 1980, the USA followed suit in the waning days of the Reagan administration and Israel through the Oslo Accords. Hamas also must reciprocate otherwise it will be ostracized and isolated. It is Hamas'’ turn to demonstrate flexibility and responsibility. Israel too can play an important role and profit from Hamas emerging as the leading power in the Palestinian political system. Israel has the ability to accelerate the Hamas movement towards moderation by adopting reciprocal and not unilateral steps. Israel by its actions can either drive Hamas deeper into the jungle or thus explode the fragile ceasefire or Israel and Hamas together can exploit the new situation to lead toward and political settlement.


Siniora seems to think that Hamas is in a process of transformation - I certainly hope that he is correct.

Selections from the Hamas Charter

The Hamas Charter details Hamas' enmity not only for the state of Israel and the Zionist movement, but also for the Jewish people.

Some quotations:

"For our struggle against the Jews is extremely wide-ranging and grave, so much so that it will need all the loyal efforts we can wield, to be followed by further steps and reinforced by successive battalions from the multifarious Arab and Islamic world, until the enemies are defeated and Allah’s victory prevails."

The Charter quotes a hadith often cited by anti-Israel and anti-semitic Jihadist groups:

"the Hamas has been looking forward to implement Allah’s promise whatever time it might take. The prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: 'The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him! This will not apply to the Gharqad, which is a Jewish tree' (cited by Bukhari and Muslim)."

The basic reason that Hamas cannot moderate, if it persists with its current charter, is found in Part III, Article Eleven: "The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine has been an Islamic Waqf throughout the generations and until the Day of Resurrection, no one can renounce it or part of it, or abandon it or part of it."

On the possibility of peaceful solutions:

"[Peace] initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement. For renouncing any part of Palestine means renouncing part of the religion; the nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its faith, the movement educates its members to adhere to its principles and to raise the banner of Allah over their homeland as they fight their Jihad: 'Allah is the all-powerful, but most people are not aware.'"

In Article Seventeen, which deals with the role of Muslim women, the charter says that the enemies understand that women are crucial in the formation of the next generation, and that if they turn women away from Islam, they will have one. At this point, the Charter goes off into the nowhereland of anti-semitic propaganda:

"Therefore, you can see them making consistent efforts [in that direction] by way of publicity and movies, curricula of education and culture, using as their intermediaries their craftsmen who are part of the various Zionist Organizations which take on all sorts of names and shapes such as: the Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, gangs of spies and the like. All of them are nests of saboteurs and sabotage. Those Zionist organizations control vast material resources, which enable them to fulfill their mission amidst societies, with a view of implementing Zionist goals and sowing the concepts that can be of use to the enemy."

It is a standard part of anti-semitic fantasies to connect the Freemasons to the Jews; this theme is found in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

The Charter also uses another standard anti-semitic slur: equating Jews with Nazis. In Article Twenty, it accuses Israel of being "a vicious, Nazi-like enemy," and then goes on to say, "The Nazism of the Jews does not skip women and children, it scares everyone. They make war against people’s livelihood, plunder their moneys and threaten their honor. In their horrible actions they mistreat people like the most horrendous war criminals."

Article Twenty-two tells the history of Zionism according to the fantasies of anti-semitic groups, again, accusing the Freemasons, the Rotary Club, and also Lions Clubs and the B'nai B'rith of being part of the Zionist movement. The "enemies" are accused of being behind the French and Communist revolutions, World War I (in order to wipe out the caliphate - i.e., the Ottoman Empire), and WWII (to make lots of money), and the U.N. (to rule the world).

Article Twenty-Eight again accuses the Freemasons et al of being spies for Zionism. It accuses Zionism of distributing drugs to destroy Muslim society. This article also says: "Israel, by virtue of its being Jewish and of having a Jewish population, defies Islam and the Muslims."

Article Thirty-Two takes the Protocols of the Elders of Zion for a truthful historical source: "For Zionist scheming has no end, and after Palestine they will covet expansion from the Nile to the Euphrates. Only when they have completed digesting the area on which they will have laid their hand, they will look forward to more expansion, etc. Their scheme has been laid out in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and their present [conduct] is the best proof of what is said there."

Unless and until Hamas rewrites its charter, renounces the anti-semitic assumptions upon which its beliefs about Israel and Jews are based, and abandons the "armed struggle" against Israel, I don't see how we can view this as an organization that is becoming moderate.

Hamas Leader Sees No Change Toward Israelis

Despite the hopeful statements on the Hamas victory that I've been hearing from commentators on the radio and reading in the newspapers, Hamas Leader Sees No Change Toward Israelis.

The political leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshal, in Damascus, said that Hamas would not "submit to pressure to recognize Israel, because the occupation is illegitimate and we will not abandon our rights," nor would it disarm, but work to create a unified Palestinian army. He defended attacks on Israeli civilians.
....arguing against any fundamental changes are Hamas's deeply held religious views, as expressed in its charter, sermons and election platform. Those views suggest that the kind of transformation that the secular P.L.O. took 25 years to make will be highly unlikely for a fundamentalist religious organization that regards all Israeli territory as irrevocably Muslim land.... Yossi Alpher, co-editor of bitterlemons.org, said ""I think we have to take Hamas at its words and assume that as Islamicists, they have some core beliefs that won't change."

The most fundamental of those beliefs, says Hisham Ahmed, a political scientist at Birzeit University in Ramallah and a student of Hamas, is that the entire land of Palestine belongs to Allah and is Muslim holy land. The 9,000-word Hamas charter, written in 1988, is explicit about the struggle for Palestine as a religious obligation. It describes the land as a "waqf," or endowment, saying that Hamas "believes that the land of Palestine has been an Islamic waqf throughout the generations and until the Day of Resurrection, no one can renounce it or part of it, or abandon it or part of it."

In the charter, Hamas describes itself as "a distinct Palestinian Movement which owes its loyalty to Allah, derives from Islam its way of life and strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine."

It calls for the elimination of Israel and Jews from Islamic holy land and portrays the Jews as evil, citing a bizarre anti-Semitic version of history going back to the Crusades. It also includes a reference to the noted czarist forgery of a plan for world domination called "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" and condemnation of supposedly Zionist organizations like the Rotary Club and the Masons. It describes the struggle against the Jews as a religious obligation for every Muslim, saying, "For our struggle against the Jews is extremely wide ranging and grave, so much so that it will need all the loyal efforts we can wield, to be followed by further steps and reinforced by successive battalions from the multifarious Arab and Islamic world, until the enemies are defeated and Allah's victory prevails."
While the Hamas election platform did not refer to seeking the destruction of Israel, this does not mean that the organization's goals have changed.
Despite the platform's relative moderation, a Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, vehemently denied any contradictions with the charter. "The platform refers to details and implementation methods for the next four years, while the charter lays out our permanent strategic views," he said....

But no Hamas leader or candidate is on record as sanctioning a permanent recognition of Israel's right to exist side by side with an independent Palestinian state, which has been the cornerstone assumption of peace negotiations since the Oslo accords in 1993. As Mr. Zahar also said, "We do not recognize the Israeli enemy, nor his right to be our neighbor, nor to stay, nor his ownership of any inch of land." Nor is any Hamas leader on record as expressing a willingness to disarm or to stop attacks on Israel and Israelis, or to make a distinction between Israeli soldiers and civilians, especially settlers living on occupied land, however defined.
Thus, I don't understand why people continue to be so optimistic that Hamas will moderate and be willing to speak to Israel. I don't see any evidence for this, unfortunately.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Hamas victory

As Amir Oren of Haaretz says: "Hamas' victory in the Palestinian elections is one of the most important events in the history of the Middle East since the Six Day War. Not only does it change the picture, but also it puts it into a completely different frame. Palestine under Hamas rule puts an end not only to the road map and the Oslo process, but also to the formula embodied by UN Resolution 242: "land for peace" and an accompanying end to the conflict. Not only does it perpetuate the conflict, but also it reshapes it - from an Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a Jewish-Arab one, and even a Western-Muslim one. Such a conflict, backed by the global Jihad movement and Khomeinist Iran, has neither a solution nor an end."

He ends by saying: "Rabin brought Arafat. Arafat brought Benjamin Netanyahu and Sharon to power. Sharon brought Hamas. And Hamas will yet bring back Netanyahu - and the lion shall lie down with the lamb."

I know that today's Haaretz still says that Kadima will win the Israeli election, but I find this difficult to believe. I find it very likely that Netanyahu will win the election, or at least come very close to doing so.

This is a disaster.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Iranian blogger

Through Velveteen Rabbi I came across this blog by an Iranian, Hossein Derakhshan, now living in Toronto - Editor: Myself. It is a real relief to read a such a sane, peace-seeking person, a good antidote to Ahmedinejad. He's currently visiting Israel.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Thus shall it be done unto the man

An interesting literary point is made in this Haaretz article on Shaul Mofaz's recent remarks about Iran - Thus shall it be done unto the man.
Thus spake Shaul Mofaz at the Herzliya Conference on Saturday evening, in his appeal to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: "You would be advised to learn from history to see what became of tyrants like you who tried to annihilate the Jewish people. They only brought destruction upon their own people."

Addressing the Iranian people directly, Mofaz said, "Ahmadinejad, his hallucinatory statements, his criminal actions and his extreme views will bring disaster upon you. Do what you know to be right in order to prevent this."

Sound familiar?

In the Book of Esther, Haman's wife Zeresh warns her husband: "If Mordechai, before whom thou hast begun to fall, be of the seed of the Jews, thou shalt not prevail against him, but shalt surely fall before him." (Esther 6:13)

Since Mofaz thought it appropriate to mention his own Iranian background ("a native of the city in which I was born") in his appeal to Ahmadinejad, it is legitimate to point out the connection - at least the associative one - between the warnings that he sent to the Iranian people and the fate of the oppressors of the Jews in Persia as inscribed in Jewish tradition.
The Haaretz article then goes on to criticize Mofaz by saying that Mofaz's words "cause people to question their wisdom" and to ask "What is achieved by Israel explicitly threatening to destroy Iran?" I'm not so sure that's the import of his allusions to the story of Esther, since in that book, Haman and his supporters are destroyed - not the entire Persian Empire. Actually, in the end, Persia ends up with a Jewish queen. It also strikes me that Mofaz is using quasi-religious language to assert that no matter what the opponents of the Jewish people may try to do to them, they will somehow inevitably be defeated. While this may be a comforting statement from the religious point of view, I somehow doubt that it's necessarily true politically.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Ahmadinejad meets radical Palestinian chiefs in Syria

I was kind of wondering why Ahmadinejad was in Syria - turns out he was meeting radical Palestinian chiefs in Syria.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met in Damascus with the leaders of 10 radical Palestinian movements including Islamic Jihad and Hamas. Ahmadinejad said he "strongly supports the Palestinian people's struggle" during the meeting, according to Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) official Maher Taher Friday. Taher said the militant chiefs pledged to Ahmadinejad that the "Palestinian resistance and struggle would continue" against Israel.

"We expressed our solidarity with Syria, which is under pressure due to its national positions, as well as with Iran which has the right to possess nuclear technology for peaceful purposes," he added. Islamic Jihad chief Abdullah Ramadan Shala, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and PFLP-GC leader Ahmed Jibril were among those at the meeting, Taher said.

The meeting came one day after Islamic Jihad claimed a suicide attack in Tel Aviv that wounded 19 people. Israel blamed Tehran and Damascus for supporting the attack. "The attack was financed by Tehran, planned in Syria and carried out by Palestinians," Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz was quoted as saying by a ministry official.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad did not attend Ahmadinejad's meeting with the Palestinian chiefs, though he and Ahmadinejad met Thursday in Damascus as the two allies reaffirmed their ties amid increasing international pressure....

The ultra-conservative Iranian president has already faced international outcry over his comments describing Israel as a "tumor" that should be "wiped off the map." During his first visit to sole regional ally Syria since his shock election win in June, Ahmadinejad described Israeli Jews as "migrants" and asked if Europeans would be willing to accommodate them. "Give these migrants authorization to come into your countries and you will see that they no longer want to live in occupied (Palestinian) territory," Ahmadinejad said during a meeting with high-ranking Syrian officials.

"Are you prepared to open the doors of your country to migrants so that they can move freely throughout Europe? Are you going to guarantee their security and no longer engage in anti-Semitic repression if they come into your countries?" he asked, adding that he doubted Europeans' "sincerity."

'Divine mission' driving Iran's new leader

An exploration of Ahmadinejad's apocalyptic theology: 'Divine mission' driving Iran's new leader.
The most remarkable aspect of Mr Ahmadinejad's piety is his devotion to the Hidden Imam, the Messiah-like figure of Shia Islam, and the president's belief that his government must prepare the country for his return. One of the first acts of Mr Ahmadinejad's government was to donate about £10 million to the Jamkaran mosque, a popular pilgrimage site where the pious come to drop messages to the Hidden Imam into a holy well.

All streams of Islam believe in a divine saviour, known as the Mahdi, who will appear at the End of Days. A common rumour - denied by the government but widely believed - is that Mr Ahmadinejad and his cabinet have signed a "contract" pledging themselves to work for the return of the Mahdi and sent it to Jamkaran.

Iran's dominant "Twelver" sect believes this will be Mohammed ibn Hasan, regarded as the 12th Imam, or righteous descendant of the Prophet Mohammad. He is said to have gone into "occlusion" in the ninth century, at the age of five. His return will be preceded by cosmic chaos, war and bloodshed. After a cataclysmic confrontation with evil and darkness, the Mahdi will lead the world to an era of universal peace. This is similar to the Christian vision of the Apocalypse. Indeed, the Hidden Imam is expected to return in the company of Jesus.

Mr Ahmadinejad appears to believe that these events are close at hand and that ordinary mortals can influence the divine timetable.

The prospect of such a man obtaining nuclear weapons is worrying. The unspoken question is this: is Mr Ahmadinejad now tempting a clash with the West because he feels safe in the belief of the imminent return of the Hidden Imam? Worse, might he be trying to provoke chaos in the hope of hastening his reappearance?....

Its most remarkable manifestation came with Mr Ahmadinejad's international debut, his speech to the United Nations. World leaders had expected a conciliatory proposal to defuse the nuclear crisis after Teheran had restarted another part of its nuclear programme in August. Instead, they heard the president speak in apocalyptic terms of Iran struggling against an evil West that sought to promote "state terrorism", impose "the logic of the dark ages" and divide the world into "light and dark countries". The speech ended with the messianic appeal to God to "hasten the emergence of your last repository, the Promised One, that perfect and pure human being, the one that will fill this world with justice and peace".

In a video distributed by an Iranian web site in November, Mr Ahmadinejad described how one of his Iranian colleagues had claimed to have seen a glow of light around the president as he began his speech to the UN. "I felt it myself too," Mr Ahmadinejad recounts. "I felt that all of a sudden the atmosphere changed there. And for 27-28 minutes all the leaders did not blink…It's not an exaggeration, because I was looking. They were astonished, as if a hand held them there and made them sit. It had opened their eyes and ears for the message of the Islamic Republic."

Western officials said the real reason for any open-eyed stares from delegates was that "they couldn't believe what they were hearing from Ahmadinejad." Their sneaking suspicion is that Iran's president actually relishes a clash with the West in the conviction that it would rekindle the spirit of the Islamic revolution and - who knows - speed up the arrival of the Hidden Imam.
In the course on Biblical Interpretation that I'm co-teaching this semester, we're going to spend the last several weeks discussing apocalypticism in Judaism and Christianity - now I wonder if we should discuss Islam as well. I don't know much about Islamic apocalypticism - except what I read about in Gershom Gorenberg's book, The End of Days.

Iran and the Bomb

In tomorrow's Times, David Brooks lays out the four bad solutions to the current standoff with Iran - Hating the Bomb. Given my own political predilections, I would go with the "pre-emptionists," who include John McCain.
Pre-emptors would work with Europe and the U.N. to step up pressure on Iran, while making it clear the world is willing to do what it takes to halt the nuclear program. As McCain said on "Face the Nation": "There is only one thing worse than the United States exercising a military option. That is a nuclear-armed Iran."
But all of the options are bad.

The most recent statement by the Israeli Defense Minister on Iran:
Israel's Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz warned the people of Iran on Saturday that their president would bring disaster and suffering upon them if he continued to call for the destruction of the Jewish state. He also said Israel was preparing to protect itself if international diplomatic efforts failed to convince Iran to give up its nuclear program.

Speaking at the Herzliya conference, an annual gathering of politicians and academics, Iranian-born Mofaz said he knew a large portion of the Iranian people did not support President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's ideology.

Mofaz addressed the Iranian people saying: "Ahmedinejad, his hallucinatory statements, his criminal actions and his extreme views will bring disaster upon you. Do what you understand needs to be done in order to prevent this.'' Mofaz, who was speaking in Hebrew, said Ahmedinejad should look at historical examples of others who tried to destroy the Jewish people.

"You, who are leading your country in an ideology of hatred, terror and anti-Semitism. You had better take a glance at history and see what became of tyrants like you who tried to annihilate the Jewish people. They only brought destruction upon their own people,'' he said.

Ahmedinejad has said that Israel should be :wiped off the map'' and has questioned whether the Holocaust took place.

Mofaz said that 2006 was a "year of transition'' during which Iran would not yet have a nuclear bomb, but that Israel would have to do all it could to make sure the United States and European nations maintained diplomatic pressure on the Iranians.

The United States and European Union want Iran's nuclear program to be referred to the U.N. Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions, and accuse Tehran of seeking nuclear bombs. Iran says its nuclear program is purely for generating electricity.

"Israel's policy is ... to bring this hot potato to the Security Council to impose sanctions and invasive inspection,'' Mofaz said. He said Israel would nevertheless continue its preparations to protect itself if diplomatic means against Iran failed. "Israel must be capable of protecting itself and ... we are preparing for this,'' he said.
The stuff of nightmares.

And Ahmadinejad is up to his usual rhetoric:
In a new attack on the existence of Israel, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has challenged Europe to take back the Jews who emigrated to Israel, adding that no Jews would remain in Israel if Europe were to open its doors.

Ahmadinejad delivered the challenge after arriving in Syria for a two-day visit on Thursday. Addressing Europe, he asked: "Would you open the doors of your own countries to these (Jewish) immigrants so that they could travel to any part of Europe they chose?"

"Would you offer the necessary guarantees that you would provide for their security when they came to your countries and not allow another anti-Semitic wave in Europe?" he added in an apparent reference to recent attacks on Jewish cemeteries and properties in European states. [RL: or could this be a backdoor reference to the Holocaust that the AP reporter was too slow to pick up on?]

Ahmadinejad provoked an international outcries last year when he said Israel should be "wiped out" and that the Nazi Holocaust against Jews in World War II was a "myth."

In his comments in the Syrian capital, which Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency reported Friday, Ahmadinejad forecast that the West would not answer the questions he had posed but would instead accuse him of "talking against global peace."

He said Europe should welcome Jewish people to prove its sincerity in supporting people's freedoms. He added he was confident that no Jews would remain in Israel if European countries allowed them to immigrate.
Among other things, it seems to have escaped Ahmadinejad's notice that about half of Israel's Jewish population is not of European descent, having left or been thrown out of Arab countries and Iran.

Every time Ahmadinejad says things like this, I am more attracted to the pre-emptionist option.

A Web Witness to Iranian Brutality

Another great Anne Applebaum column, this time on A Web Witness to Iranian Brutality. Link from Normblog, at this point my favorite British blogger.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

More from Mahmood's Den

Mahmood has a round-up of Bahraini blogs (done weekly for Global Voices), where he cites the responses of many Bahraini bloggers to the recent death of the son of the Bahraini king:
Practically every Bahraini blog offered condolences to his majesty the king of Bahrain on the tragic death of his 6th son: Shaikh Faisal, who was just 14 and died as a result of a car accident. Shaikh Faisal is remembered by his friends as an avid equestrian and is full of life. Some commentors however wanted to break the norm and politicise this tragic event, especially as controversial forums like the recently lauded BahrainOnline.org, which mysteriously is on a 4 day maintenance regime! Hassan Al-Khozai (Arabic) was disgusted by some of the black-hearted comments on 'some' Bahraini forums who seemed to revel in the extinguished young life just because it belonged to a royal, and this comes from someone who could only be described as opposition. However Hassan is certainly not unique in this respect, he has proven his humility just as other traditional government opponents have: Abdulhadi Khalaf, and Manama Republic have conveyed their condolences with the politeness, respect and humility this situation demands.
By the way, Global Voices is a fabulous way to keep track of blogs from all around the world. People from many countries provide a blog roundup once a week or whenever the fancy strikes them and thus give a lot of exposure to blogs others will never have heard of. (There hasn't been an Israeli blog roundup since early December 2005, and a lot has certainly happened since then!)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Great War of 2007

If you want to be frightened about the possible consequences of Iran getting the bomb, read this article by the Harvard historian Niall Ferguson - The origins of the Great War of 2007 - and how it could have been prevented. He's writing as from 2011, after the end of the "Great War."

A couple of scary paragraphs:
So history repeated itself. As in the 1930s, an anti-Semitic demagogue broke his country's treaty obligations and armed for war. Having first tried appeasement, offering the Iranians economic incentives to desist, the West appealed to international agencies - the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Security Council. Thanks to China's veto, however, the UN produced nothing but empty resolutions and ineffectual sanctions, like the exclusion of Iran from the 2006 World Cup finals.

Only one man might have stiffened President Bush's resolve in the crisis: not Tony Blair, he had wrecked his domestic credibility over Iraq and was in any case on the point of retirement - Ariel Sharon. Yet he had been struck down by a stroke as the Iranian crisis came to a head. With Israel leaderless, Ahmadinejad had a free hand.

As in the 1930s, too, the West fell back on wishful thinking. Perhaps, some said, Ahmadinejad was only sabre-rattling because his domestic position was so weak. Perhaps his political rivals in the Iranian clergy were on the point of getting rid of him. In that case, the last thing the West should do was to take a tough line; that would only bolster Ahmadinejad by inflaming Iranian popular feeling. So in Washington and in London people crossed their fingers, hoping for the deus ex machina of a home-grown regime change in Teheran.
Hopefully an implausible scenario...

Sunday, January 15, 2006

On the death penalty

Norman Geras of Normblog cites an interesting quote by Sister Helen Prejean on her attendance at executions - Being there. She says, "I go there to be there for them. When they look in my face they see someone who cares about them and believes in their dignity. They know that I will tell their story. You have to steel yourself to be utterly thinking of them. It is afterwards that you vomit." She is, of course, the nun who is opposed to the death penalty and her work with men facing the death penalty was the subject of first her own book and then the movie Dead Man Walking. She has recently published another book on the death penalty, entitled The Death of Innocents.

An article about her in the Guardian (UK) says, "She has attended the executions of men she knows to be guilty of horrific crimes, but also of men she believes to be innocent, and prays with and counsels their families and those of victims. She believes that executions are morally wrong but the killing of the innocent, subjected often to a callous and stubborn judicial refusal over years properly to reinvestigate their cases after conviction, fills her with revulsion."

Her opinion of politicians and judges who use the Bible to justify executions:
Sister Helen is scathing about politicians and judges who use the Bible to justify executions. "I call it Christianity-lite. It's not real Christianity. Truly it is blasphemy. Jesus Christ is being held hostage by these people: his whole message is being perverted." ...

The book is fiercely critical of the supreme court justice Antonin Scalia, a Catholic who claims to be obeying biblical injunctions and the intentions of the 18th-century framers of the US constitution. Sister Helen has little more hope for Mr Bush's appointments to the supreme court - John Roberts, also a Catholic, and the nominee Samuel Alito.

"They come out of the same George Bush cookie cutter. They have a certain ideology and it is not one that will be on the side of standing up for people's rights. They are rightwing authoritarians. These people put on five pairs of white gloves when they are considering death penalty cases.

"They do not see the people they are dealing with as human. That's how Auschwitz happened."
I have mixed feelings about the death penalty. On the one hand, I find it revolting that the state may be killing innocent people - but on the other hand, the crimes that the guilty have committed are horrific and sicken me.

Even if it seems to me that someone deserves to die for his crimes, it is still something I find very troubling. I was very disturbed when Timothy McVeigh was executed for the Oklahoma City bombing, in which 168 people were killed. In part I was troubled because I supported his execution. I woke up that morning just at about the time of the execution and as I listened to the radio I had the sick feeling that I (and anyone else who supported his execution) was implicated in his death. I still am not sure what I think about the death penalty. It certainly does not seem to be a deterrent to violent crime, innocent people can be killed for acts they did not commit, and it is obvious that the death penalty is imposed very unequally across the U.S.

Thinking about this, I came across an interesting blog entry by Jay Lassiter - Everything I know about the death penalty, I learned from Pope John Paul II (typos corrected by me). He said about the late Pope's stance:
But when I heard Pope John Paul II discuss the death penalty in the context of forgiveness and vengeance, I was moved to revisit the issue (and my own ideas of forgiveness.) The Pope mentioned that support for the death penalty is generally rooted in desire for revenge. He acknowledged the legitimate urge for justice, but suggested that justice can never be achieved through vengeance. He admonished those who cite Biblical scripture to justify a pro-death penalty stance. According to the Pope, the oft-repeated proverb "an eye for an eye...." (Lev. 24:20) was not a recipe for vengeance, rather it meant to serve as a cautionary tale against the escalation of violence in general. The Pope also pointed out that Jesus' position on the death penalty was clear: rather than retaliation, we should "turn the other cheek" and extend our hand in healing, blessing, and forgiveness. (Matthew 5:38-55) ...

The Pope advanced the argument that when a prisoner (who poses no threat to society) is executed, it sends the message that life is worthless, thus we can view the death penalty as an injustice to the sanctity of life. I share the Pope's belief that execution does not end with the death of the criminal, but affects each and every one of us living in a society which justifies capital punishment. I admit it's instinctively pleasing to judge those who commit heinous crimes as worthless or "less-than" but we should resist this temptation. If we convince ourselves that some among us deserve death, then we forget that all of us deserve forgiveness and the grace to amend our lives. Fighting violence with violence for the sake of vengeance does not serve a useful role in this country. Nor does it allow society to cultivate less vengeful methods of dealing with violent crime.
It is interesting here that Lassiter brings in the themes of forgiveness and the importance of not treating fellow humans as if they were worthless. It is so easy for me to feel angry at people who commit horrible crimes that I forget my agreement with these elementary moral truths. The desire for revenge can certainly overwhelm one's moral judgement.

Alan Sable

I was thinking earlier tonight about my brief career as a student at UC Santa Cruz - 1977-79, studying psychology and women's studies. One of the courses I took was an introduction to sociology (or maybe it was a course in American sociology) by Professor Alan Sable. He was a radical professor, a Marxist, and an out gay man, and made his political opinions obvious in the classroom. He was not granted tenure by UC and during my first year at Santa Cruz there were a series of student demonstrations protesting this, in which I participated. The culmination of the demonstrations was a sit-in in the administration building over one weekend. The demonstrators left early Monday morning, before the building opened for business - the administration had announced that those sitting-in would be arrested if they stayed any longer. Despite our protests, Professor Sable was not reinstated, and ended up becoming a psychotherapist - he now works at the Gay Therapy Center of San Francisco as a marriage and family therapist with a primarily gay and lesbian clientele.

I found a long interview with him on the Santa Cruz web site, where he talks about the whole struggle for tenure and why he thinks he did not gain tenure - primarily because he was the first out gay professor on the UC campus, and also probably because of his political radicalism and internal faculty struggles over whether teaching or research was more important for gaining tenure. He was a very popular professor (hence the student support) - I remember students flocking to his courses, which were often conducted in a very personal manner. Santa Cruz at that time was a hotbed of political radicalism and activism (for all I know, it still is - there was an article in today's New York Times about protests against military recruiters there on April 5 of last year, and allegations that the student group that organized the protests was spied upon by the Pentagon), and demonstrating against Sable's dismissal was part of that.

In his class I recall writing a paper on the racial tensions during my high school years, and trying to explain them in terms learned from him about the American racial situation. I believe it was in his class that I first learned about the concept of "institutionalized racism" - that racism is not just a matter of personal bigotry, but is part of an entire institutional system of white supremacy.

I guess I would say that I learned a lot from him, but in retrospect I think that he went overboard in pushing his own political agenda on the students (despite the fact that what he said was often congruent with the opinions of the majority of students in his classes). It was hard to stand up and question the political positions he supported. As a teacher now, I think it's important for students to feel that they can speak up in class in disagreement with the teacher.

But on the other hand, it's apparent from the interview that many students did feel able to stand and speak in his class and say things that they had not been able to express in other places. He was part of the first wave of gay and lesbian professors on campuses, bringing awareness of gay and lesbian life into the classroom, supporting gay studies classes, supporting gay and lesbian students in organizing a gay student group - long before such a thing as "queer studies" gained the relative academic respectability it has now.

Blogging in the Arab world

Tomorrow's New York Times reports on the impact the web is having on politics in Bahrain - In Tiny Arab State, Web Takes on Ruling Elite. The article focuses on Ali Abudelemam, the author of Bahrain Online (Arabic). It's interesting to read in light of comments by Mahmood al-Yousif on his blog, Mahmood's Den about politics in Bahrain (his blog is in English, therefore I can read it!). Mahmood's latest posting is about the horrible loss of life in Mecca during the Hajj a few days ago - a mass stampede killed over 35 people.

A previous posting on Mahmood's Den covered the death in a traffic accident of the son of the king, Shaikh Faisal bin Hamad Al-Khalifa. It's interesting that Mahmood wrote very respectfully of the King of Bahrain, while some of his commenters were less deferential of the royal family. This is interesting in light of the fact that Mahmood himself is Shi'ite, while the royal family is Sunni (and 70% of the Bahraini population is Shi'ite) - and according to the Times article, there is a great deal of resentment among the Shi'ites because of discriminatory treatment of them by the government.

The Religious Policeman, a Saudi blogger who is very critical of the Saudi government, also blogged on the stampede in Mecca, a few days after predicting further disasters during the Hajj because of the enormous numbers of pilgrims who come each year. He writes: "There is something very eerie about writing about the dangers, and then seeing yet another repetition, once more the corpses being loaded into trucks. It just keeps happening again and again, like a bad nightmare." (RP was offline for a long time and recently started blogging again - he's not living in Saudi Arabia at the moment, which probably makes it easier and safer for him to blog).

Friday, January 06, 2006

Sharon's changes

I received an e-mail today from Gershon Baskin of IPCRI - an article he wrote for the Jerusalem Times (a Jerusalem Palestinian journal) on Sharon. Baskin writes:
Since the end of May 2003 I have added a quote of Ariel Sharon as part of my email signature. This is quite significant for me as no one more than Sharon personified almost everything that I was opposed to in Israel. This quote marked the real shift that Sharon underwent in the past few years.

In 1988 I launched the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information – IPCRI, based on the idea that the two-states for two peoples solution was the ultimate fulfillment of the national strategic interests of the Jewish people and the Palestinian people. At that time, less than 5% of Israelis supported this solution and many Israelis, particularly in the government and military, related to me as a traitor. The final rejection of the occupation by Sharon was my final vindication from the accusations of being a traitor. The quote reads as follows: “I think the idea that it is possible to continue keeping 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation - yes it is occupation, you might not like the word, but what is happening is occupation - is bad for Israel, and bad for the Palestinians, and bad for the Israeli economy. Controlling 3.5 million Palestinians cannot go on forever. You want to remain in Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah and Bethlehem?" Ariel Sharon, May 26, 2003
He goes on in the article to write about how Sharon's politics changed significantly, to the extent that he was willing to withdraw from Gaza and then leave the party he founded (Likud), founding a new centrist party, Kadima. He ends the article with these words:
It is really sad that Sharon is not witness to the overwhelming outpouring of good wishes that he is receiving from all over the country and the world. Sharon was one of the most hated politicians in the last decades both in Israel, the region and around the world. He is now regarded as a great statesman and leader. He certainly gained my respect for what he did this past year. His history will not be forgotten but he did leave the political arena with a different legacy – one that has brought new hope to the region.
I feel the same way. It never would have occurred to me in 1982, after the massacres at Sabra and Shatilla in Lebanon, that I would be sad at the news that Ariel Sharon had suffered a devastating stroke and was fighting for his life. (I just heard on the radio that he's been rushed back to the emergency room to reduce swelling in his brain - it looks bad).

Pat Robertson on Ariel Sharon

And now, our own homegrown Taliban, Pat Robertson, blames Sharon stroke on policy of "dividing God's land". Via Media Matters:
From the January 5 edition of CBN's The 700 Club:

ROBERTSON: I have said last year that Israel was entering into the most dangerous period of its entire existence as a nation. That is intensifying this year with the loss of Sharon. Sharon was personally a very likeable person. I am sad to see him in this condition. But I think we need to look at the Bible and the Book of Joel. The prophet Joel makes it very clear that God has enmity against those who, quote, "divide my land." God considers this land to be his. You read the Bible, he says, "This is my land." And for any prime minister of Israel who decides he going carve it up and give it away, God says, "No. This is mine." And the same thing -- I had a wonderful meeting with Yitzhak Rabin in 1974. He was tragically assassinated, and it was terrible thing that happened, but nevertheless, he was dead. And now Ariel Sharon, who was again a very likeable person, a delightful person to be with. I prayed with him personally. But here he is at the point of death. He was dividing God's land, and I would say woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the EU, the United Nations or United States of America. God said, "This land belongs to me, you better leave it alone."
This is the same man who blamed the 9/11 attacks on pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays, and lesbians, when on his show Jerry Falwell said that they "helped this happen."

Thursday, January 05, 2006

More news on Sharon

This report from Haaretz about Sharon's condition says that he has "sustained vast brain damage as a result of his stroke and ensuing cerebral hemorrhage."

A public opinion survey conducted yesterday in Israel for Haaretz reports that Kadima (Sharon's party) would still win from 40-42 seats in the Knesset if Ehud Olmert or Shimon Peres led the party. Of course, it is still a couple of months until the elections, and who knows what will happen in the meantime.

Pulsa Denura, again

I was reading through my referral logs, and noticed that the most frequent search term that gets my blog is "pulsa denura" or "Ariel Sharon pulsa denura." I guess that people around the world (Russia, Hungary, Israel, Canada, and the U.S. according to their IP addresses) are wondering if Sharon's stroke is as a result of the supposed curse inflicted against him last summer by Rabbi Yossi Dayan and his band of fanatics. One referral is from Judapest, a blog in Hungarian, which I can't read, so I don't know if the posting is neutral, just about the curse, or if there's a political or religious slant to it.

In any case, although I study Jewish magic and mysticism, I do not believe that Sharon's stroke was caused by supernatural intervention - he, like the rest of us, is subject to all the frailties of the flesh, and has fallen victim to a natural weakness.

More on Sharon's stroke

In this article, the New York Times points out the difficulties In treating this type of stroke. It sounds very bad for Sharon.

I've been feeling kind of paralyzed since I heard the news of Sharon's stroke about 6:00 p.m. tonight - and sad. I am reminded somewhat of the night of Rabin's assassination, although that of course was death by violence, and this is not. That same feeling of being in limbo and not know what's going to happen next. Of being on a deathwatch, and waiting to hear the news.

When Sharon first became Prime Minister, in the wake of the beginning of the second intifada, I thought it was going to be a disaster for Israel (not that Ehud Barak did very well in dealing with the intifada). All I could remember was the massacres at Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982, when Sharon was Defense Minister and the Phalangist militia killed hundreds on his watch. But then when he actually became Prime Minister, he didn't seem that different from Barak - and gradually, he began to change, especially after the death of Arafat. The old warrior seemed to be recognizing the reality before his face - that Israel could not continue to occupy another people. I thought that he was very impressive last summer with the withdrawal from Gaza, and hoped that this was a harbinger of future withdrawals. Now, even if he survives, I can't imagine that he'll be able to continue to serve as Prime Minister, or to lead a party in the elections. Everything has been thrown up completely in the air.

There are Israeli politicians whose policies I agree with more than Sharon's - Amir Peretz for example - but he seemed the most likely to be able to get Israel out of a large part of the West Bank. I don't believe that anyone in Kadima will be able to take his place as a leader - no one else has his stature (except Peres, but Peres is no good at winning elections).

More on Sharon

Another report on Sharon says that he "was brought to Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital from his ranch in the Negev desert, an official said. Channel 2 TV said Sharon was suffering from paralysis in his lower body and was taken into the hospital on a stretcher."

Sharon suffers second stroke

Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, suffers significant stroke, undergoing surgery for intra-cranial bleeding. "Dr. Shmuel Shapira of Hadassah Hospital told Channel 2 TV that Sharon suffered 'a massive stroke, he was taken to an operating room to drain the blood.'"

This is not good - Sharon is probably all that is keeping Kadima together (the new Israeli centrist party that is reckoned to receive about 40 mandates in the upcoming elections for the Knesset). At this point, Sharon's doctors "assessed that Sharon's chances of recovery may not be high. "