Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Visiting Turkey

I'm off on another trip, this time to Istanbul, Turkey. I'm with a group studying Ottoman history, but we're really looking at sites from all periods of history in Istanbul. Our first day we went to the Haghia Sophia - the former great church of Byzantine times, which was transformed into a mosque with the Ottoman conquest in 1453. Across a beautiful garden with flowers and fountains is the Blue Mosque, built in the time of Sultan Ahmet I - an amazing, beautiful, serene building inside and out. We entered after the early afternoon prayer time was over and saw the soaring domes inside, with blue tiles (hence the name of the mosque) - many tourists but also people praying. I felt that I had entered a different atmosphere from that of contemporary tourist Istanbul, full of people from all over the world gawking at the sites. There is something about Islamic architecture that is truly impressive.

Yesterday we went to the Topkapi Palace, which was the palace of the Ottoman sultans for hundreds of years. Calling it opulent hardly does justice to the place - many buildings, spectacular blue and white tiles in the harem, treasures of the world amassed by the Ottomans and displayed in the Treasury. There are also holy Muslim relics, including the cloak of the Prophet and his sword, an impression of his footprint, hairs from his beard in reliquary boxes. In the room with the relics a man sat reciting from the Qur'an, since it is a Muslim pilgrimage site. It felt strange to be entering such a place as a tourist - but this is a feature of many holy places, which serve both as places of pilgrimage for the faithful and as sites for tourists to visit and touch the strange and exotic. (In Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall, and the Temple Mount serve both functions).

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

New (to me) blogs to read

While wandering around the blogosphere, I've found some interesting blogs recently, including Emes Ve-Emunah, written by Harry Maryles and discussing many important and interesting Jewish issues from an Orthodox perspective. One I found particularly interesting was on "Gedolim and the Holocaust."

Another is Orthonomics by SephardiLady, who has some wise things to say about the necessary guidelines for Jewish schools to fight against sexual abuse of children.

Another, that I've read before, is Da'as Hedyot, who also has a very thoughtful posting on the recent sexual abuse scandal in the Orthodox world.

What is most interesting to me about all these blogs is the light they shine on a world that I am not part of - Orthodoxy and especially Ultra-Orthodox Judaism. Da'as Hedyot is fascinating in writing about the process by which he left the Orthodox world. There are other blogs (like Hasidic Rebel that describe the lives of people who still live an outwardly Orthodox or Hasidic life but who inwardly have traveled far away from it. I would not even know that people like him existed without the world of blogs. Sometimes it seems almost voyeuristic to read people's blogs - they are so revealing of themselves and their world, and I wonder if they imagine that people like myself are reading them (actually, I know that they do, because people like me post comments on their blogs).

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Taheri-ng It Up

But is there actually a figure in Iran's government named Mostafa Pourhardani, as Jim Henley of Unqualified Offerings asks?

A quick dash around the blogosphere via Technorati presents several versions of sharp skepticism about Taheri's reaffirmation of his story, from the right to the left.

Amir Taheri responds to his critics

An interesting response from Taheri, but without enough details to satisfy me.
Regarding the dress code story it seems that my column was used as the basis for a number of reports that somehow jumped the gun.

As far as my article is concerned I stand by it.

The law has been passed by the Islamic Majlis and will now be submitted to the Council of Guardians. A committee has been appointed to work out the modalities of implementation.

Many ideas are being discussed with regard to implementation, including special markers, known as zonnars, for followers of Judaism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism, the only faiths other than Islam that are recognized as such. The zonnar was in use throughout the Muslim world until the early 20th century and marked out the dhimmis, or protected religious minorities. (In Iran it was formally abolished in 1908).

I have been informed of the ideas under discussion thanks to my sources in Tehran, including three members of the Majlis who had tried to block the bill since it was first drafted in 2004.
I do not know which of these ideas or any will be eventually adopted. We will know once the committee appointed to discuss them presents its report, perhaps in September.

Interestingly, the Islamic Republic authorities refuse to issue an official statement categorically rejecting the concept of dhimmitude and the need for marking out religious minorities.

I raised the issue not as a news story, because news of the new law was already several days old, but as an opinion column to alert the outside world to this most disturbing development.
From reading this press release, it does not sound that he knew what other articles were going to be published by the National Post on the dress code (unless he's being disingenuous). I don't know how it is that the NP acquired his article and what his relationship is with the editors of the paper. Perhaps, as some suggest, there is a sinister relationship between them - if so, perhaps commenters to this post can enlighten us further.

The sources he mentions are NOT other Iranian emigres, but (unnamed) sources in Teheran - which was also true in the original article, where he named one, Mostafa Pourhardani, Minister of Islamic Orientation. Who are the three unnamed members of the Majlis who are his sources? Why doesn't he name them?

But in this press release he is much less categorical than in his editorial piece, where he says that the law "also envisages separate dress codes for religious minorities, Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians, who will have to adopt distinct colour schemes to make them identifiable in public." He says further, "Religious minorities would have their own colour schemes. They will also have to wear special insignia, known as zonnar, to indicate their non-Islamic faiths. Jews would be marked out with a yellow strip of cloth sewn in front of their clothes while Christians will be assigned the colour red. Zoroastrians end up with Persian blue as the colour of their zonnar. It is not clear what will happen to followers of other religions, including Hindus, Bahais and Buddhists, not to mention plain agnostics and atheists, whose very existence is denied by the Islamic Republic." In the press release, in contrast, these are ideas under discussion - but by whom? And how likely is it that these ideas will come to fruition? Are these ideas put forth by a minority or a majority?

This is an unsatisfying statement, which raises more questions than it answers. I think it is necessary for Taheri to publish an additional article that supplies the sources for his statements and gives convincing details that counter the remarks by the Jewish representative to the Majlis and the Iranian government that categorically deny that one of the purposes of the law is to mark out religious minorities.

On the other hand, the article by Chris Wattie in the National Post (cited above) that contains the denials about the religious minorities part of the law, contains information that indicates that these provisions were under discussion at a certain point, if not now.
Sam Kermanian, of the U.S.-based Iranian-American Jewish Federation, said in an interview from Los Angeles that he had contacted members of the Jewish community in Iran - including the lone Jewish member of the Iranian parliament.

They denied any such measure was in place.

Mr. Kermanian said the subject of "what to do with religious minorities" came up during debates leading up to the passing of the dress code law. "It is possible that some ideas might have been thrown around," he said. "But to the best of my knowledge the final version of the law does not demand any identifying marks by the religious minority groups."

Ali Reza Nourizadeh, an Iranian commentator on political affairs in London, suggested that the requirements for badges or insignia for religious minorities was part of a "secondary motion" introduced in parliament, addressing the changes specific to the attire of people of various religious backgrounds. Mr. Nourizadeh said that motion was very minor and was far from being passed into law. That account could not be confirmed.

Meir Javdanfar, an Israeli expert on Iran and the Middle East who was born and raised in Tehran, said yesterday that he was unable to find any evidence that such a law had been passed. "None of my sources in Iran have heard of this," he said. "I don't know where this comes from." Mr. Javdanfar said that not all clauses of the law had been passed through the parliament and said the requirement that Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians wear special insignia might be part of an older version of the Islamic dress law, which was first written two years ago. "In any case, there is no way that they could have forced Iranian Jews to wear this," he added. "The Iranian people would never stand for it."

However, Mr. Kermanian added that Jews in Iran still face widespread, systematic discrimination. "For example, if they sell food they have to identify themselves and their shops as non-Muslim," he said.
Perhaps Taheri's Iranian informants are themselves not up to date on what the debates are and the meaning of the law; perhaps they spun it to him in this direction; perhaps Taheri himself is the author of the spin. I think the only way we'll know is with further detailed reporting.

Holocaust Museum blog

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has started a blog about Darfur and other crimes against humanity. Their Committee on Conscience also has a weekly podcast that one can subscribe to from this website.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Saudi textbooks - preaching hatred

Nina Shea reports on Saudi textbooks that the Saudi government describes as having been cleansed of intolerance towards Christians and Jews.

An eighth grade lesson: "As cited in Ibn Abbas: The apes are Jews, the people of the Sabbath; while the swine are the Christians, the infidels of the communion of Jesus."

A tenth-grade textbook perpetuates the lies of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion":
A 10th-grade Saudi textbook on the hadith and Islamic culture for boys contains a lesson on the "Zionist movement." A key part of the lesson teaches students about the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an anti-Semitic forgery that purported to expose a scheme for Jewish global domination and has been widely circulated since the early 20th century. Despite repeated debunking and a notorious role in inciting Nazi violence, the protocols are still taught to the 10th graders as an authentic document revealing what Jews genuinely believe. The lesson goes on to blame many of the world's wars and discord on the Jews.

Iranian badge story false

Jewschool quotes a number of newspaper articles from the Canadian press which demonstrate that the story about Iranian badges is based on false information. Mobius says, "What seems apparent from this, at least to me, is that powerful forces are attempting to build international support for an invasion of Iran by equating its actions with that of Nazi Germany’s loudly in the press." He may be right about the National Post in Canada - their front page certainly made that point, with the headline of "Iran Eyes Badges for Jews" and under it a photograph of two Jews in Germany wearing the yellow star. But again, as I've stated in my comments to my previous post, this was not the only point that Taheri was making in his article - he wrote about how this law might affect Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians in Iran, rather than singling out Jews.

In any case, regardless of what Iran may or may not be doing, I certainly do not support a U.S. war against Iran, which I think would be disastrous for the U.S., Iran, and Israel.

Update: The Jerusalem Post has also published an article denying the truth of the story, and describing what impact this new law, which deals with recommended "Islamic dress", might have on Iranian women.

See also this posting by Andrew Sullivan: "I've now read enough to feel confident in saying that the Canada National Post story about Jews in Iran being forced to wear yellow badges is almost certainly bunk. The Jewish delegate in Iran's pseudo-parliament denies it....Was this active disinformation? If so, who was behind it? And for what purpose? That seems to me to be the next salient question."

Further Update: Haaretz has an interesting article on the retraction of the story about the Iranian badges: "Yesterday, after it emerged that the report had been false, the affair of 'the yellow patch that wasn't' left us with one lesson: The world is ready to believe anything when it comes to a country ruled by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.... '[The Iranian president] has aroused a tense mood of hostility toward himself and toward Iran," Iran expert Javedanfar said. "The Western world's readiness to accept without question this false accusation is an attempt to settle accounts with Ahmadinejad. It is as if the Western world was saying to him: Just as you are willing to be inaccurate when it comes to historical facts about the Holocaust, so we can pay you back in kind,' Javedanfar continued."

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Soferet

Soferet has some wise words on the dangers of charismatic leadership:
Rabbis, gurus, priests, politicians, you name it. Charisma is a heady tool that should be used with caution. Remember with humility that we are all vessels of Torah, & it is the Torah we share that is so attractive. It speaks to people's souls. So it is shocking & sad that any liberties would be taken with another's soul.

"Rebbe-izing" people so that they give their power away is harmful. Rabbinic privilege does not extend to people's bodies. Assaulting your students, your employees, or anyone vulnerable to you is unethical.

Sacred physical intimacy can be achieved, IY"H, by equally empowered, lovingly covenanted partners.

Rabbinic abuse

This horrifying story about Mordechai Gafni, recently fired spiritual leader of "Bayit Chadash" in Israel, gives more details about his abuse of teenage girls in the United States, quite a while before he went to Israel and changed his name from Marc Winiarz. A series of postings on Jewschool, starting with Gafni Strikes Again on May 12 outlines the charges against him. The case has also been covered in the Forward and in Haaretz.

More information from a Ynet article:
Since the 1980s' Gafni – also known as Marc (Mordechai) Winyarz – has been accused of molesting teenage students as a young rabbi with the now-defunct Jewish Public School Youth organization, and of plagiarizing influential rabbis such as late Yeshiva University rector Rabbi Joseph Dov Soleveitchik and Shlomo Carlebach. One former colleague who experienced Winyarz's sexual advances first-hand says he had a magnetic charm, but was entirely unpredictable and manipulative. "He simply couldn't control himself," she says.

As a rabbi in Boca Raton, Florida in the late 1980s, Gafni was censured by the South County Rabbinical Association for ''denigrating'' other congregations, for "undermining" the work of the local kosher food authority and for raiding other synagogues for members. The censure was eventually revoked. And Rabbi Shlomo Riskin says Gafni's was the only ordination he has ever revoked. Riskin is the chief rabbi of Efrat and one of Modern Orthodoxy's leading spokesmen....

In a 2004 interview with New York Jewish Week editor Gary Rosenblatt, Gafni admitted committing statutory rape as a young rabbi, but dismissed the allegations because he was a "stupid kid and we were in love.... She was 14 going on 35, and I never forced her," said the rabbi. But unconfirmed reports attributed to that victim paint a rather less flattering picture of their "affair":

"(There he was) in my room, standing over me at my bedside in only his underwear. I had not even heard him come in the door. He lay down next to me and began touching me again, like he had previously. I said, 'Mordechai, no, this is wrong.' It was as if he didn't even hear me. I just shut down and let him do what he was going to do. He continued fondling me, took off all of my clothes and his. He positioned himself on top of me ready for intercourse.

"'When did you get your last period?' he asked. What a weird question. I wasn't sure of the answer. I just made something up. 'That's no good.' He replied. 'You know I could get you pregnant.' He seemed disappointed as he lay beside me. Mordechai took my hand and forced me to help him climax. I had never done anything like that before. I had never even seen a man naked. He ejaculated all over me. I felt horrible. When he was finished he stood abruptly.

"Get cleaned up and come upstairs," he ordered and left the room. But by the time this interview was published, the New York State statute of limitations had expired, and Gafni was never prosecuted.
I haven't commented on this case before because I've never met Gafni, attended Bayit Chadash, and have only a slight connection to Jewish Renewal. But this is a truly disturbing story, one unfortunately with many echoes in other parts of the Jewish and Christian worlds.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

A colour code for Iran's 'infidels'

I've finally had a look at Amir Taheri's article in the National Post - A colour code for Iran's 'infidels' - and it doesn't mention Iranian exiles as his source for the article. He also quotes from various Iranian officials, and seems to have very detailed information. I am wondering what the truth is - is the Iranian government denying this story because it casts such a negative light on the country, or is it doing so simply because the story isn't true? An Israeli expert on Iran also denies the truth of this report. I hope we'll learn in the next few days what the truth is.

Experts say report of badges for Jews in Iran is untrue

An updated report from the National Post (Canada) - Experts say report of badges for Jews in Iran is untrue.

Arash Abadpour, of the Kamangir blog, provides a translation of the main points of the law, which do not mention anything about non-Muslims.

On the possible Iranian law

Doubts are being cast on the story from Iran about requiring distinguishing clothing for Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians.

It is interesting to me that those who comment on this possible law always draw the comparison to the Nazis, who required Jews to wear the yellow star. The supposed Iranian law, at least as stated in the articles I have read, requires it rather for adherents of the three religions that have "protected" (dhimmi) status under Muslim religious law, who live according to the so-called Pact of Umar, which dates to the 9th century C.E. The Pact requires members of the dhimmi peoples to acknowledge the superiority of Islam and act in a humble manner towards Muslims. For example, according to the version I've just linked to, Christians were not supposed to build new churches. Christians were not to "imitate them [Muslims] in [their] dress, either in the cap, turban, sandals, or parting of the hair." In exchange for agreeing to these terms, Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians were permitted to practice their religions and within certain specified conditions, to live freely under Muslim rule. They also had to pay the jizya, a special poll-tax that guaranteed them safety under Muslim rule. Other limitations were that dhimmis were not supposed to hold government office with control over Muslims, but in the Middle Ages this provision (as well as others) were often ignored.

Other Iranian laws that are in force seem to be inspired by the rules of the dhimma. The last paragraph in the New York Sun article says:
Iran's constitution already carves out special status for non-Muslims. For example, it prohibits non-Muslims from obtaining senior posts in either the army or government. A national ordinance made into law in 2000 and 2001 requires all non-Muslim butchers, grocers, and purveyors of food to post a form in the window of their place of business warning Muslims they do not share their faith. At the time the code was defended in order to enforce Islamic dietary law. Muslims in Iran officially enjoy preference over non-Muslims in terms of admission to universities and colleges.
Professor Laurence Loeb's book, Outcaste: Jewish Life in Southern Iran (New York: Gordon and Breach, 1977), describes the strict dhimmi rules that Jews in Iran, based on notions of the impurity of non-Muslims, lived under until the 1920s:
Professor Laurence Loeb’s seminal analysis of dhimmi Jews under Muslim suzerainty in Iran documents the social impact of Shi’ite najas [impurity] regulations, beginning with the implementation of a “badge of shame [as] an identifying symbol which marked someone as a najas Jew and thus to be avoided. From the reign of Abbas I [1587-1629] until the 1920s, all Jews were required to display the badge.”
See also this article on the history of the impurity regulations in Iran as applied to Jews and Christians. (I am hesitant to link to these two articles, which were published in Front Page Mag, but I have read Loeb's book and his conclusions are as described in these articles).

While the supposed law is vile, it may be a real historical mistake to point to Nazi influence - there is plenty of historical precedent in Iran prior to the rise of Nazism for this kind of invidious singling out of non-Muslims for prejudice and discrimination.

Another denial that the proposed law would refer to Jews, Christians, or Zoroastrians comes from the AP:
Iran's conservative-dominated parliament is debating a draft law that would discourage women from wearing Western clothing, increase taxes on imported clothes and fund an advertising campaign to encourage citizens to wear Islamic-style garments....

In Tehran, legislator Emad Afroogh, who sponsored the bill and chairs the parliament's cultural committee, told The Associated Press on Friday there was no truth to the Canadian newspaper report. ''It's a sheer lie. The rumors about this are worthless,'' he said.

Afroogh said the bill seeks only to make women dress more conservatively and avoid Western fashions. ''The bill is not related to minorities. It is only about clothing,'' he said. ''Please tell them (in the West) to check the details of the bill. There is no mention of religious minorities and their clothing in the bill,'' he said.

Iranian Jewish lawmaker Morris Motamed told the AP: ''Such a plan has never been proposed or discussed in parliament. Such news, which appeared abroad, is an insult to religious minorities here.''

At Iran's mission to the United Nations, a diplomat, speaking anonymously because he was not allowed to make official statements, called the report ''completely false... We reject that. It is not true. The minorities in Iran are completely free and are represented in the Iranian parliament,'' the diplomat said.

According to the bill, a joint committee of the parliament and Cabinet ministers will decide on the tax increase on imported clothes and other details. ''Promotion of Western and spontaneous styles has become a cultural problem in major cities. It needs national attention,'' Mahmoud Hosseini, spokesman of the cultural committee in the Majlis, or parliament, has said in comments broadcast live on state radio.

Revival of the "Badge of Shame"?

The Iranian parliament has recently passed a bill requiring non-Muslims in Iran - Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians - to wear distinguishing marks on their clothing to single them out from Muslims.

Haaretz picked up the story but with some skepticism - "According to Meir Jawadnafar, an Israeli expert on the Iranian government, Tehran has not yet determined the nature of Muslim dress that will be required in the country. Therefore, he says, the claim that it was decided that Iran's Jews would be forced to wear yellow badges on their clothing is baseless. He said the Iranian government has no intention of forcing ethnic groups to wear specific colors." Also, "Some Israeli commentators suggested the story still needed to be fully verified, pointing to the fact that the source of the story was Iranian exiles strongly opposed to the regime ruling their country."

Friday, May 19, 2006

Bad News from Darfur

The peace accord between Sudan and one of the rebel groups seems to have had little effect - Darfur Effort Said to Face Collapse
Jan Egeland, the chief United Nations aid coordinator, told the Security Council today that conditions in Darfur had deteriorated so drastically that the international assistance effort there faced collapse in weeks.
Lydia Polgreen of the NY Times also reports that Violent Rebel Rift Adds Layer to Darfur's Misery
Two of the main rebel factions fighting the Sudanese government and its allied militias have turned on each other, spurred by ethnic tensions and what appears to be a relentless grab for more territory. Now the rebels have unleashed a tide of violence against the very civilians they once joined forces to protect.

"Right now, we don't have any security problem with the government forces or with the janjaweed," said Lt. Col. Wisdom Bleboo, the commander of 140 African Union troops based in nearby Tawila, referring to the Arab militias that have terrorized the people of Darfur in recent years. "It is only the fighting between the rebel factions that is causing us trouble."

The tactics of the rebels have grown so similar to those of their enemies that an attack on this dusty village on April 19 bore all the marks of the brutal assault that first forced its people to flee their homes three years ago. Soldiers in uniform, backed by men toting machine guns on camels, flooded the village, burning huts, shooting, looting and raping.

Only this time, the soldiers were not government troops, as they had been before. Nor were the men on camels and horseback the fearsome janjaweed, who often destroy villages alongside government forces in a campaign of state-supported murder and rape that the Bush administration has called genocide.

Instead, last month's attack came from a faction of the Sudan Liberation Army, the same rebel movement that says it wants to liberate the non-Arab people of Darfur from the yoke of Arab domination. Alongside the rebels were armed nomadic herdsmen from the Zaghawa, a non-Arab tribe that is supposedly fighting for the people of Darfur against the government.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A Cruel Joke is Played on Darfur

In this article published by Eric Reeves, he writes that A Cruel Joke is Played on Darfur. This is what a NATO force on the ground could do to stop the genocide:
A robust brigade of NATO-quality troops, ideally (if improbably) operating with a UN mandate, serving as the core of a larger force of approximately 20,000 troops, could immediately change the security dynamic on the ground in ways critical for the almost 4 million human beings now defined by the UN as "conflict-affected" and in need of humanitarian assistance.

Such a force could produce an immediate and complete stand-down of Khartoum’s regular forces, including helicopter gunships. The Janjaweed could be put on notice that they would be destroyed if they assembled in groups larger than a couple of dozen (this would have the effect of "disarming" these brutal militias, since they function as a quasi-military force only when the aggregate in the hundreds or thousands). Camps for displaced persons could be protected from marauding remnants of the Janjaweed and other violent elements. Vital humanitarian corridors and operations could be protected. And there would be sufficient manpower available to start the process of providing security for people as they return to their lands. Crucially, staunching the flow of genocidal violence into an increasingly unstable eastern Chad could also begin.

Yes, there are risks and significant costs to such an operation; it will be neither short nor easy. But the alternative is to survey the current death toll, in excess of 450,000 from all causes, and declare that we are prepared to accept hundreds of thousands of additional deaths in the coming months as we enter the most deadly hunger gap to date (the period between spring planting and fall harvest). Food stocks are critically low, humanitarians continue to evacuate, more than 700,000 people are beyond the reach of all aid efforts in the greater humanitarian theater of Darfur and eastern Chad. This is Rwanda in slow-motion, and the Abuja accord between one faction of the Sudan Liberation Army and Khartoum’s genocidaires provides no guarantees or guarantors that might halt Darfur’s ghastly spectacle.
However, as this article from Sudan Tribune reports, the U.S. bid even to form a U.N. force in Darfur has run into objections from China, Russia, and several African nations:
The U.S. has run into strong resistance in its bid for a Security Council resolution that would give the U.N. immediate control over peacekeepers in Darfur, diplomats said Friday. Objections from China, Russia and several African nations have forced the U.S. to strip out much of the most powerful language of the draft, possibly delaying the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers in the troubled Sudanese region. The retreat is a blow to U.S. President George W. Bush, who had announced Monday that he would seek the new resolution and asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to press for it during a U.N. visit Tuesday.

It was part of several new initiatives from Bush to bring an end to the suffering in Darfur, where violence has killed nearly 200,000 people since 2003. Late last week, Darfur’s government and rebels signed a peace deal at last.

A new draft of the U.S. resolution circulated late Thursday makes several key concessions. For example, it asks only that a U.N. assessment team inspect the A.U. force "with a view to a follow-on United Nations operation in Darfur."

The draft also asks all parties to the Darfur deal, the U.N. and other organizations "to accelerate transition to a United Nations operation."

Sudan’s government has previously refused to allow the assessment team into the country, though officials have suggested the peace deal could ease its concerns.

"The expectation continues that we will have a joint planning team on the ground in Darfur as soon as possible," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. "We would expect the government of Sudan to cooperate fully and let this team do its work."

The African Union forces, which number about 7,200, are now low on funds and have largely been ineffective in stopping atrocities and re-establishing security.

According to the U.N. plan, the force would be bolstered and folded into the command of a U.N. peacekeeping force monitoring a separate peace deal between Sudan’s largely Muslim north and the Christian and animist south.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said Friday he did not think the new draft was "substantially weaker," though he acknowledged several changes had been required.

"I think some things were removed in an effort to reach a broader consensus within the council about what the text would be," Bolton said. "I think we’re very close to bringing it before the council. I hope it will be unanimous but again, we’re prepared to go whether it’s unanimous or not."

But several diplomats said objections remained. They portrayed the latest draft more as a U.S. effort to show progress on Darfur than as a text that will move any closer to a U.N.-led mission there. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the draft publicly.

China and Russia, two veto-wielding members of the council, oppose that even the new draft is written under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, which could make it legally binding and enforceable by sanctions.

The African Union has asked that the council delay voting on the draft until after Monday, when its Peace and Security Council meets to endorse the Darfur peace deal and discuss the possibility of giving the U.N. authority over the A.U. force.

Truce Is Talk, Agony Is Real in Darfur War

Lydia Polgreen of the New York Times has published a series of articles since the peace agreement signed between the largest of the Darfur rebel groups and the Sudanese government - all unfortunately pointing to the same thing, that the Truce Is Talk, Agony Is Real in Darfur War.
It took three months for Fatouma Moussa to collect enough firewood to justify a trip to sell it in the market town of Shangil Tobayi, half a day's drive by truck from here. It took just a few moments on Thursday for janjaweed militiamen, making a mockery of the new cease-fire, to steal the $40 she had earned on the trip and rape her.

Speaking barely in a whisper, Ms. Moussa, who is 18, gave a spare account of her ordeal.

"We found janjaweed at Amer Jadid," she said, naming a village just a few miles north of her own. "One woman was killed. I was raped."

Officially, the cease-fire in the Darfur region went into effect last Monday.

That was three days after the government and the largest rebel group signed a broad peace agreement, creating hope for an end to the brutal assaults that have left more than 200,000 dead and have driven two million from their homes, a campaign of government-sponsored terror against non-Arab tribes in Darfur that the Bush administration has called genocide.
There seemed to be a glimmer of hope with the agreement, but now it seems as if it is going in the same direction as the truce signed in 2004 - nowhere. And the genocide continues. I believe that the only thing that will really change what is happening there is persistent, strong U.S. pressure on the Sudanese government - not just to get the various parties to sign an agreement, but to send a strong U.N. force to Darfur with the power and authority to disarm the Janjaweed and the rebel militias. But that would require the 5 permanent members of the U.N. security council all agreeing - and I don't see much hope of that with China on the security council, with its interest in Sudanese oil.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Welcome to Avaslan

While looking at some of the referrers to my blog, I came across the Welcome to Avaslan site. It was set up by Brian Friedman, who also has family origins in Liepaja/Libau, Latvia. He writes:
Thank you for visiting Avaslan. This website is named after the ancestral farm of my Zlotover ancestors, which was situated on the banks of the Venta river in Northern Lithuania.

The four grandparental branches of my family tree all originated from the same corner of the Pale of Settlement. The family all left Heim in the late 1880s with most emigrating to England or Ireland. These days family members are spread throughout the world - from China to Australia, US, Israel and everywhere inbetween.

My genealogy research has been predominately focused in the triangle bordered by Vilnius in Lithuania and Riga and Liepaja in Latvia. In earlier times, this was largely known as the Duchy of Courland.

During my researches, I have traipsed through tumbled down cemeteries, waded in remote streams in search of ruined watermills and attended emotional memorial services in the killing fields of Skede. I have also met local dignitaries and on one occasion even had drinks with the British ambassador to Latvia on board a Royal Navy warship in Liepaja.
Brian writes about his attending the dedication of the memorial to the Jews murdered on the beaches of Skede, and provides photos of Libau as it used to be and of present-day Liepaja. I wish I could e-mail him to thank him for the website, but there's no link provided, so this posting will have to express my thanks.

Seeing his site made me wonder about other websites put up by descendants of Libau Jews (other than Jews in Liepaja/Latvia 1941-45, put up by Edward Anders and Juris Dubrovskis, which is a database of victims and survivors of WWII. If I come across any more I will note them here.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Darfur Proposal Meets Demands

There is a glimmer of hope that a compromise has been reached between the Darfur rebels and the Sudanese government: Darfur Proposal Meets Demands.
Jaffer Monro, spokesman for the largest rebel group, the Sudan Liberatian Movement, told The Associated Press that the U.S.-drafted revisions to an earlier draft made an agreement possible.

''We are going to study them, but the improvements give us the sign that we can agree, that we do not need to renegotiate and that there will be no further delay for the final agreement,'' he said.
If this is true, perhaps this is a real start to a beginning of peace - but we will have to see.

Darfur rally

I went to the rally for Darfur on Sunday, April 30, in Washington, D.C. I arrived in D.C. on Friday afternoon, and went with a friend to a Darfur-oriented Friday night service at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, organized by a couple of local DC havurot (prayer groups). A couple of people spoke after services about Darfur, one of them a woman who had just come back from six months of working in Darfur against gender-based violence. It was wonderful to see a room full of people concerned about Darfur. I've spent a lot of time in the last couple of years feeling that I was one of only a few who really cared about Darfur - there has been very little organizing on this issue in Ithaca - so it was great to see that there actually is a movement of people who believe that it is important to stop a genocide going on right in front of our eyes, rather than mourning it later on, as we did with Rwanda.

On Sunday we joined a larger group of people from DC havurah circles going to the rally, meeting first at Ebenezer's, a cafe close to Union Station, from which we walked to the rally. On our way, we passed a large Unitarian pre-rally get-together. Some of the people with us were from a recently-organized group, Jewish Seminarians for Justice - consisting of people going to rabbinical schools ranging from Hebrew Union College (Reform) to Yeshiva University (Orthodox). We arrived at the rally shortly before it "officially" began. It was really a thrill to see such a large crowd - it eventually grew to between 50,000 and 75,000 people.

At least in the corner of the rally where I was, there were many different Jewish groups represented - various synagogues, the Reform movement, youth groups including Young Judea, students from Yeshiva University, etc. From what I've read, the rally was actually more diverse than that, as the Washington Post article reported: "They wore skullcaps, turbans, headscarves, yarmulkes, baseball hats and bandanas. There were pastors, rabbis, imams, youths from churches and youths from synagogues. They cried out phrases in Arabic and held signs in Hebrew. But on this day, they said, they didn't come out as Jews or Muslims, Christians or Sikhs, Republicans or Democrats." Although the Post reporter seemed to think that Jews were among the largest contingent of demonstrators: "But yesterday's rally brought together people from dozens of backgrounds and affiliations, many of whom strongly disagree politically and ideologically on many issues. Judging from T-shirts and banners identifying the various groups, Jews appeared to be among the largest contingent of demonstrators."

There were many many speakers. Some of the highlights: Elie Wiesel, who spoke first; Paul Rusesabagina, whose story was told in "Hotel Rwanda," Richard Land, of the National Association of Evangelicals; also a woman from Darfur who now lives in the U.S. Most speakers did not propose specific policies, but asked for awareness and for pressure on the U.S. government to do what it could. (There has been some criticism of this in the blogosphere, but I think that in a rally with such a broad coalition it would have been impossible for the speakers all to call for one particular policy). Some speakers asked for a NATO force in Darfur, I think even a couple called for a U.S. force.

We stayed at the rally until about 5:00 (it was supposed to end at 4:30... but still seemed to be going strong as we walked away).

I am very glad that I went - I now have the feeling that there is an actual, grassroots movement to try to save the people of Darfur, and perhaps we will have an effect on their fate. On Monday morning I went on a lobbying day organized by the Religious Action Center, something I've never done before. We were going in state delegations to lobby our senators on such issues as including more money in the emergency supplemental bill now before Congress for peacekeepers and to support the AU force. I went with the New York group and we spoke with legislative aides to Senators Clinton and Schumer. Clinton seemed to be much more active on this issue than Schumer. I think it's a good thing we went, it's always good to let our senators and congressmen know we care about issues like this, not just about how the price of gas is too high.

One of the things I took away from the rally and the lobbying was an appreciation of how involved the U.S. government really has been in trying to deal with Darfur. The U.S. is the single largest donor to the UN World Food Program's food relief in Darfur. The U.S. has been very involved in the negotiations going on in Abuja between the Sudanese government and the rebels. David Saperstein of the RAC said something very interesting about the rebels, by the way - that we should not regard them as inherently better than the Sudanese government, it's not like they are the "good guys" either. We were not rallying to support either side, but to support the people of Darfur who are being murdered, raped, and driven from their homes - principally, of course, by the government of Sudan, its military, and the Janjaweed. On Monday the assistant secretary of state Zoellick flew out to Abuja to try to rescue the talks - I hope that he and others will succeed in bringing the warring parties to some kind of agreement. President Bush also called the President of Sudan yesterday to urge him to compromise. This diplomatic effort is much more important than I had previously realised. I hope that the rallies that occurred on Sunday across the country will continue to provide an additional impetus for our government to be active in trying to stop the fighting and save the people of Darfur.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

President's meeting with Darfur advocates

On Friday, April 28, President Bush met with Darfur advocates in the White House for an hour and twenty minutes. Among other things, he said, "And for those of you who are going out to march for justice, you represent the best of our country. We believe every life is precious, every human being is important." Among those he met with was David Saperstein, head of the Religious Action Center of the Reform Jewish movement. I was very moved to hear this on Monday morning, from Saperstein, in a meeting in Washington preparatory to lobbying the Senate on behalf of various bills dealing with Darfur. I went to the Darfur rally on Sunday and stayed in Washington on Monday for the lobbying.

Think Again about Stanley Fish

Stanley Fish has some interesting thoughts about the idea of a student bill of rights, recently approved by the student body at Princeton, and about the idea of "intellectual diversity," which is being pushed by the conservative activist David Horowitz. The reapproval of the Higher Education Act, up for action by Congress, includes a version of Horowitz's "Academic Bill of Rights," and the Pennsylvania legislature is also considering a version of it.
Several versions of the bill—including a separate but overlapping Student Bill of Rights—can be found on a Horowitz-sponsored Web site, Students for Academic Freedom, but they all display the same strategy of alternating unexceptionable statements with statements that at first sound benign but are in fact troubling in their implications. Who could disagree with the Princeton document’s insistence that “professors must never allow a student’s affiliations or religious beliefs to negatively affect his/her academic performance” or with the assertion that “Teachers are entitled to freedom in teaching their subject as they see fit, but not to the point of political, ideological, religious or anti-religious indoctrination…”?

I certainly don’t, which is why three of my own essays are featured on the Students for Academic Freedom Web site. I have problems, however, with the clause that concludes the second quotation: “or to the exclusion of other viewpoints.” The repetition of “or,” linking the three propositions, suggests that they are all in the same line of work, but they are not. The second clause—“not to the point of political, ideological, religious, or anti-religious indoctrination”—properly limits the instructor’s freedom (which cannot include the freedom to proselytize). But the third clause takes that freedom away by requiring the instructor to give class time to viewpoints simply because they are out there.

This little move has been telegraphed by the first words of the Princeton bill: “Believing in the need to affirm the principles of academic freedom and intellectual diversity.…” The strong suggestion is that academic freedom and intellectual diversity go together, but in fact they pull in opposite directions. Academic freedom is the freedom to go wherever an intellectual inquiry takes you without regard to directives proclaimed in advance by a regime of prior restraint. Intellectual diversity is a prior restraint; it tells you where to look and what you must look at—you must take into account every point of view independently of whether you think it is worth considering—and it tells you what materials you must include in your syllabus. The number of viewpoints you decide to consult or present to your students should be determined by the shape and history of the academic task rather than by a general imperative which may or not be pertinent to a particular line of inquiry.
Fish then goes on to point out the political underpinnings of this movement for "intellectual diversity" - the goal is for more professors to express conservative viewpoints in the classroom, as a counter to the left/liberal opinions expressed by many professors.

I can understand some of the impulses behind the move towards something like an "academic bill of rights," because I have seen and heard of professors pushing their own political line in the classroom and censuring students for disagreeing with them. On the other hand, I agree with Fish that not all viewpoints are appropriately expressed in the classroom. For a blatant example, must a course on the Holocaust also include the viewpoints of Holocaust deniers as equally valid with knowledgeable historians of the Holocaust? On the third hand, I do think that it is educationally sound to permit students to ask questions or raise objections based upon views that I may not think are sound - so that I can present evidence that refutes them. I'm thinking of John Stuart Mill's argument for free speech here - allowing even repugnant views the light of day allows others to refute them, present evidence countering them, etc. A classroom is not a democracy, certainly not the typical American college classroom - but it should permit free speech in most instances (I exclude the hurling of vile insults at other students or the professor).